Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Self-Publishing: Where's the Marketing?

I can't tell you how often I see queries in my inbox that start "I self-published my book ___, but I am frustrated/underwhelmed with the sales and now I need an agent to take it to the next level."

They need someone to boost sales for them and teach them how to market. A publicist. Not an agent.

Agents do more marketing all the time as the landscape shifts (me more than many--I like it). But this is done for clients--people for whom we have sold a book. Any marketing assistance would be supplemental to the function of selling the book (the only thing, incidentally, for which an agent is traditionally paid--on commission). If you've already gotten the book published, you've essentially done the agent's primary job. 

As I said in the previous posts in our self-publishing series, legacy/traditional publishing and self-publishing are different paths. If you're looking to move between these paths make sure you're realistic about how much you expect the other system to bend over backwards to accommodate you.

Agents functioning primarily as a publicist is just not going to happen. We sell: foreign, print, audio, etc. etc., and we want to do so for self-published authors too. But you've got to sell those copies yourself first.

Tomorrow's #AskAgent!

Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Self-Publishing Mechanics

Most agents and editors agree that 5,000 is the minimum number of copies a self-published book has to sell in order to be considered a viable choice for a traditional publishing deal. This within 6 months or fewer, in order to be really eye-catching.

That is a lot of copies.  

It seems sort of unreasonable, really, if you don't know why a book has to sell that many. Honestly, one thousand copies, essentially sold by hand, while holding down a full-time job, should impress pretty much anyone. And in truth, it is impressive!

But you're not trying to impress a person. You're trying to impress a Profit and Loss Statement (a P&L: example here). This financial statement is used to project profits for a publishing house. In the case of debut writers, the "Revenue" section is guess work, based on how books like theirs have sold. In the case of non-debut writers, it's based on their actual past sales numbers. If the "Revenue" doesn't exceed expenses, book 2 (or 3 or whatever) is in trouble.

The P&L is one of the most common causes of a book getting turned down by a house, particularly in the case of authors who were first published by a small house or self-published. It's the P&L that agents have in mind when they say that you must have 5,000 copies sold in order to be considered for a traditional publishing deal. 

Monday, August 29, 2011

Self-Publishing vs Traditional Publishing

Agents wear all sorts of hats these days, but it's important to remember the first hat any agent wears (or should wear) and that's to sell books to publishers.

Which means self-publishing and traditional publishing diverge very fundamentally.

If you've published your book in any way, whether it's on your blog for free, as an ebook, or through a small press, you've essentially taken over the agent's job. Many do this to great satisfaction. Most, though, find themselves frustrated and feeling duped without representation.

Of course, some self-published authors get leveraged into traditional deals with publishers, but these are few and far between and the mechanics are complicated (more later this week). There is about a 1% chance that your self-publishing experience will look anything like John Locke's.

If you're hoping to be published traditionally, the best way to get there is traditionally. Query agents. Revise for agents. Attend conferences. Do research. Get an Agent. Get a Book Deal.

If you exhaust that avenue, and no one is smart enough to see you've written a bestseller, then self-publish (this is almost universally better than signing with a small press, believe it or not, because you keep ALL your rights--meaning you can sell them later if a big publisher is interested).

If you self-publish and then try to query agents, you will universally get "No" unless you've sold in excess of 5,000 copies. This is not an opinion of mine, it's the fact of the matter. An agent cannot leverage print rights on a self-published book without sales numbers to back it up. As a debut author, querying agents, you have no sales numbers and no one expects you to. You're a debut. But once you're published, even if you do it yourself, publishers need to see some $treet cred.

Friday, August 26, 2011

Queries of a different sort...

Yesterday was so much fun that I vote it become a Thursday institution on this blog. All those in favor? All those opposed? OK. It's settled.

Thanks so much for all the questions, everyone, and let's tune in next week for a discussion of self-/indie publishing and the relationship to traditional/agented publishing. Are they symbiotic? Mutually exclusive? The basics are covered in yesterday's comments section, so take a look there if you're wondering. But does anyone have any follow ups to yesterday's discussion of the matter? Let's make sure I answer them next week!!

Yay collaboration!

Thursday, August 25, 2011


Let's have question time. You can ask anything for the next two hours and I promise I'll answer it before midnight tomorrow (so end of the day Friday). Yes, questions about your projects are OK, but let's keep it general: word count for a particular category (or look here), character age, whether a character name is distracting. We're not editing (although maybe you'll find a good beta reader!), so don't post excerpts. Know also that this is public--don't post anything that you might not like the answer to (so no marriage proposals, please) or that might cross the "too personal" line!

Some of you will probably have awesome questions that are too complex to answer in the comments--for those, I'll do blog posts in the coming weeks.

Use good judgment, please, so that I want to do this again. :) 

Questions open now until 6:15 pm EST.

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Word Counts

Approximate word count ranges for major categories are:

General Adult/Women's Fiction: 60-90K
Thrillers: 80-100K
Fantasy/SciFi: 80-low 100K
Young Adult: 60-85K (more for the scifi/fantasy/paranormal brethren)
Middle Grade: 40-60K (ditto)

I wonder if, with media being constantly condensed (shorter blog posts, headlines in lieu of full news reports, 140-character updates), readers will start to be less tolerant of longer books?

I've heard some rumblings about this, and I think there is definitely some trend here toward bite-sized media in all forms. But then I hear about all of the cool additions being made to books these days (like soundtracks), and I wonder if the changing face of media isn't going to make for richer multi-sensory experiences, even as some things, like word count, change.

Then I wonder if I'm really going to like all the add-ons all that much. So, you know.

What do you think?

Friday, August 19, 2011

Is your book melodramatic?

How does one know when his or her writing crosses the line from emotionally compelling to just too much?

For me, it's often in "the twist." Something that's merely intense veers into soap opera territory when an author adds that one. more. thing. The twist in these cases is often highly salacious or verboten rather than subtle and surprising.

For instance: pregnant terminally ill main character discovers she has to solve a murder--of her baby daddy.

Or: Small town guy realizes he's gay and must face coming out to his Bible-belt family and friends--but then his father dies in a plow accident and CAN HE REALLY RISK TEARING HIS FAMILY APART MORE?? Oh, and then he discovers his father's stash of child porn when going through his effects.

No joke, those were in my inbox.

Trust yourself, writers. The above stories have great hearts: facing one's own death as a new one is starting. Navigating prejudice of those close to you. Tell those stories; you don't have to throw the kitchen sink in, too. 

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

QR Codes

A few months back, I posted about my favorite things as a way to talk about Quick Response codes, like the one below which will take you to the post in question:

Today there was a neat article in Publishing Perspectives about how these codes are being used to enhance print books, which I think is brilliant. For instance, Bill Cameron's COUNTY LINE (Tyrus Books) has QR Codes that link to discussion guides, an author video, and even a deleted scene. Our own Gordon Thomas' next edition of GIDEON'S SPIES, about the Israeli intelligence force Mossad, will include a QR code that links you to his blog for between-book updates.

What do you think?

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

Self Publishing: I Wanna Know

Yesterday there was a link circulating around the pub-peeps Twitter-verse (along with commentary ranging from outrage to profanity) to an offer from Publish America.


The link took you to a buy page: pay $49 and Publish America (my fingers burn to type it) will show your book to J.K. Rowling and "ask her what she thinks."

To me, this just sounds insane. Completely implausible. But I empathize with writers, and I sort of see how PA gets people. The suggestion that something might get an author published is a powerful thing.

I know this, too, because I see so many queries that start out "I self-published with _____ but the experience was not what I expected (or) I am disappointed (or) they totally jerked me around." And my heart goes out to these people! Because often that project is shot--without serious sales numbers (5K+) an agent will have a very difficult time leveraging a self-pubbed book for print sale.

So I want to ask you guys. What offers entice you/your compatriots to pay the $49, to sign a contract without representation? Is it resentment toward the Publishing Establishment? Snazzily worded pitches from the self-pub companies? What value do you see in the self-publishing world, in having to do it all on your own??

Further, what do you want to know from the Publishing Establishment? Does it make sense that agents cite such a high number of sales before a self-pubbed project is valuable for the traditional publishing world?

My instinct is that there was a lot of "Eff the Man" talk about a year ago. The sad stories I'm seeing in my inbox now are the result of the early adopters of self-publishing getting burned; the backlash. I feel now that there's a more cautious view of self-publishing: that it's a dangerous, potentially career-harming move if not done correctly, with a lot of back-end work. But then I still get emails asking what the point of an agent I dunno.

Monday, August 15, 2011

MUST READ Online Marketing Post from Nancy Coffey Literary and Media Representation

It's sometimes hard to talk about online marketing because every book and every campaign is so different. The strategy changes 100% with each new project. It's easier to talk about what not to do, but that'll only get you so far.

Case studies, man. Case studies is where it's at.

Friday, August 12, 2011

Online Author Marketing: Your Book Is Pubbing!

You're living the dream, man. An agent, a book your book is about to come out!

This is going to be AWESOME.

Publishers dedicate marketing and publicity staff to your book, with their biggest push focused around the launch. It's called "event marketing" in the industry.

What that means is that there's one big push, but no long term marketing strategy for the book...and this is where most authors (and some agents) get really grouchy. ("They're not doing anything anymore!")

But before we start Publisher bashing, as is so en vogue these days, consider that just as your book had some launch-time marketing (galleys printed, an ad somewhere, etc.) the next book on that publicist's list has to get the same attention. The publisher has to move on.

Which means that, at this stage, your own marketing efforts have to get more aggressive and your strategy more sophisticated. In post one, we talked about building the foundation of your online presence. On Tuesday, about focusing your online strategy. At this stage, you should focus on marrying your marketing foundation (blog, Twitter, Facebook, etc.) with specific marketing strategy.

This means getting creative. Your goal should be to keep your book(s) on people's minds in the online space, where attention spans are notoriously short.

This is not done by "selling" your book.

As you've no doubt heard before, broadcasting "BUY MY BOOK" is a quick way to get ignored. Create value for your audience--by being funny, like Maureen Johnson, finding interesting images on Flickr, or marrying your writing interests with something broader, as Sarah Fine does with psychology and YA literature.

Keep them coming back for your digital content and persona (separate from your book) and they'll get your book news (new releases, discounted ebooks, etc.) too. Organically piqued interest has a much greater chance of generating sales and word-of-mouth advertising.

Yes, this "online stuff" takes time. Or money (you can certainly pay some very talented professionals to do this for you). The online space has become a hugely important marketing and sales environment. If you choose to ignore that online space, you risk dooming your book to the "Launch and Fizzle" pattern so many books fall into.

Tuesday, August 9, 2011

Online Author Marketing: Agented!

You may have been an unagented writer before, just trying to build a basic online brand (see yesterday's post) but now...


You landed an agent. Nice work! You've got a blog with a few followers and you've done some guest posts here and there for other bloggers who've even returned the favor. You may have figured out The Twitter. The two platforms, through cross-linking, support one another.

Things feel a lot more concrete than they did when you were just hammering away at different projects. You've got one to really focus on, with some in the wings (your agent hopes).

Now that you have something specific to promote, whether sold or unsold, you should reevaluate your online strategy and perhaps expand into new platforms. Hopefully your agent can help you. For instance:
  • Are you writing nonfiction as an expert in some area? You could join Quora and start answering questions there--it's a great way to build platform.
  • Facebook. This is more complicated because everyone thinks they know how to do The Facebook. Most people have a Facebook page of some sort, but few have one that's really effective in building an online brand, (see here for some details). Think of a strategy for Facebook: what are you promoting? A single title? A series? You as an author?
  • Flickr. If you're an artist or illustrator, Flickr is a great place to showcase your work and build stories--supplemental, perhaps, to your book--in a new way.
There are many more ways to build an online brand; your agent can and should help you with this strategy, although you shouldn't expect them to do it for you. If you're too busy for social media, see here. Apply to all social media platforms.

A word on oversharing: you're going on submission now. It's a nervewracking experience for all involved and it can be really frustrating. Don't blog about it. Don't tweet it. Don't write angsty poetry about it and post it to your Tumblr. Don't.

So in the agented stage you get an online presence with a little more flair, guided by your agent. You've also got a more focused message, since you'll have a project to promote. Go get 'em!

Sunday, August 7, 2011

Online Author Marketing: Pre-Agent

On Friday, I participated in an amazing interactive interview on Krista Van Dolzer's Mother. Write. (Repeat.) Blog. One of the questions asked, concerning author online marketing, was too complex to discuss in the comments section:

How can a writer get the most out of the Internet at each stage of the writing journey (pre-agent, post-agent, pre-book release, post-book release)?

Since we couldn't talk about it on Friday, it'll be the subject of a series on the blog this week.

First, we'll cover pre-agent online marketing and platform-building tactics.

Since your online presence is the foundation for your online marketing in the future, you should have a strategy before you just jump on Blogger. What brand are you trying to build? What other people are already talking about what you want to? How can you possibly collaborate with them? Unfortunately, blogging about "your writing process" or "your publishing journey" is not going to cut it if you really want to build a following--too many are already doing it. For tips on blog topics, check out this post here (and the surrounding posts).

I suggest a blog and a twitter account as a good online foundation for an aspiring writer.

You don't have to be super active on Twitter as soon as you sign up. Go ahead and find 20 or 30 people to follow--a mix of writers you admire, agents, editors, and non-publishing people--and just lurk. Listen to conversations, jump in where you feel like you have something to say. As you get more comfortable with the platform, you can tweet more. A fully active account should be tweeting no fewer than three times a day.

The hashtags #askagent and #yalitchat are examples of ways to find others interested in the things you're writing about: both agents/editors and beta writers. You can search those terms on Twitter and read the transcripts of the chats, which are always full of great info.

A blog is another good way to get started building an online presence. As you'll see as you get your feet wet with Twitter, the writerly blogosphere is incredibly interconnected. Bloggers guest post, start series together, and share thoughts on books they loved (And hated). But here more than anywhere else you have to worry about oversharing.

Many writers serialize their work on their blogs. I cannot encourage you strongly enough to avoid that. Authors nearly always list "getting an agent" as the reason they put "teasers" on their blogs. But there is already a mechanism for showing your work to agents: the query. Trust that process; it is highly unlikely that an agent will just stumble on your blog. They usually find it by clicking links in a query. So why put it on the blog?

If you choose to do so anyway you may put yourself breach of the warranties and indemnities clause of the publishing contract that you haven't even signed yet. I like Krista's strategy: she has a widget on her sidebar that lists a logline for her book. That's interesting without crossing any lines. Kathleen Ortiz has a great author website post here that lists website elements you should focus on.

You should try to post about twice a week on your blog--a link with a caption is still a post, but try to make a habit of producing real content--between 100 and 400 words.

So what do you think? Any questions? Tomorrow we'll talk about changes you should make once you're an agented writer.

Friday, August 5, 2011

If nothing happens...

First line in a query today:

"What happens when everyone expects the apocalypse--and nothing happens."

Well, this agent stops reading, for one. If you say the words "nothing happens" in your query you're just sinking yourself.

Your query should tell me what happens. Not what doesn't.

Tuesday, August 2, 2011

Meredith in the ATL

The Atlantic, that is.

I'm honored to be featured with some much more impressive names than my own in an article about YA literature, growing up, and what "art" means anymore at